Just a quick note tonight. If you haven’t yet read it, you might well find something provocative in Ben Lehman’s newest guest-post at Vincent Baker’s blog: Rules and Their Functions. Besides being a thoughtful read on its own, it has got a great discussion happening in its (albeit unthreaded) comments section.
The thrust of the piece is that RPG rules fall into two distinct types—continuous rules and immediate rules—that we interact with in meaningfully different ways during play. From Lehman’s post:
Rules in role-playing games perform two distinct functions, and for the moment let’s say that they fall into two distinct types. There are what we might call “continuous rules,” which continually shape our play process. Examples of this might be “I’m a GM; I control the world and the minor characters” [...]
Alternatively, we can think of rules which perform immediate, direct functions on the fiction of the game. We might call these “immediate rules.” These are rules like “when you act under fire, roll 2d6. On a 7+ …” [...] They are engaged only in specific, immediate instances.
I’ve talked elsewhere about implicit and explicit rules in RPGs, about things that are presumed to be understood and things that benefit from (or outright require) being stated outright, and the difference therein. I talk in panels and seminars (as I will at Gen Con this year) about establishing things and then letting them run in the background, and I think it’s fair to describe (some of?) those things as rules. For me, the foreground/background, active/passive, explicit/implicit language fits my head better than continuous/immediate, but we’re not talking about exactly the same thing… and I’m about to conflate Lehman’s post (which is about rules) with dramaturgy and setting, so maybe I should stop.
Anyway, I found myself nodding along with a lot of what Lehman was saying in this post. I’m still meditating on it (and am finding the discussion loaded with jargon that I’m not always in love with), but for sure I’ll be thinking about this post as I press forward on this summer’s numerous RPG projects. Go forth and do thou likewise, if you’re so inclined.